One of the most challenging aspects of medical malpractice law is figuring out who, exactly, is responsible for the malpractice. In fact, it is very common to spend a lot of time figuring out if the hospital or the actual treating physician is responsible for your injuries.
Respondeat superior means “let the master answer.” Essentially, it is the legal principle that can hold an employer responsible for the negligence of employees in certain circumstances. According to FindLaw, another way to term this is “vicarious liability.”
When does respondeat superior apply?
The broadest answer to this is that if an employee (the physician) was acting within the “scope” of his or her employment, then the employer (in this case a hospital) is responsible. However, determining whether or not the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment is often one of the most difficult aspects of a medical malpractice case.
In a general sense, the law may hold an employer responsible for the actions of its employees if the injury happened while the employee was “on the clock,” the injury is a result of some activity that the employer hired the employee to perform and if the employer benefited from the activity the employee was engaging in at the time of your injury.
What are defenses against respondeat superior?
In the event that your physician was an independent contractor, the employer is not liable for his or her conduct. Additionally, the hospital might argue that it has a very limited role in supervising what doctors do. Again, determining a respondeat superior can be difficult and may take up a lot of time in your malpractice case.